Tim Gier Interview
4 September 2010
Tim is a vegan who seeks the abolition of all forms of exploitation committed against other beings; nonhuman and human alike. Tim also believes in the inherent goodness of all people and that truth can be known. After a 25 year roller-coaster ride of a career in Automobile Sales Management, culminating in self-employment with an internet & B2B operation, Tim has decided to go back to get the education he already has. Tim is currently studying Business Administration at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, after which he intends on entering the University of Florida’s Philosophy programme, which is where his heart really lies.
Tim maintains an excellent blog site at http://TimGier.com, where he likes to blog about animal rights as well as business, politics and human behaviour. Tim’s latest blog entry “Pleasure Spiked with Pain” discusses sentience and what qualifies one to be considered sentient.
ARZone: I have lived in the wild and befriended wild animals such as deer and ground squirrels to the point of they became tame, came when I called them, and I fed them (vegan/organic). I was able to pet them. Some had a problem with this because I was interfering with nature and because it may not have been good for them, in the long run, especially since I left when winter came.
I was told by other vegans that I should not do that. One of the problems is that they were in a forest where hunters came in every year. So getting close to me (a human) could have affected how they are with hunters, but also, I protected them from hunters. I kept them by me (feeding them slowly) until dusk to avoid the hunters. Also, some would say feeding them what I fed them was not their natural food. (They sure loved this unnatural food – organic fruit and vegetables). What do you think of this befriending wild animals?
Tim Gier: Thanks for that question. When someone suggests you are interfering with nature, they are using words that have little meaning. You are part of nature, not separate from it. Can you interfere with something you are a part of? I would reject the suggestion in that sense. Beyond that, the history of life on this planet is one of adaptation to change. The climate, the flora and fauna and the very Earth itself is in a constant state of flux. Living beings respond to those changes. So, maybe it is true that by feeding free-living animals fod other than what they are used to eating you alter their habits in some way. Is that any different than the changes that result from “natural” things?
For example, there was a period about 1000 years ago when global temperatures changed significantly higher and the lower over the course of almost 300 years. I’m sure that the diets of deer had to change as well during that time. I am not suggesting that because the world presents its own challenges to life that “anything goes” with respect to what we do, but individual actions performed in the spirit of kindness need not be seen as exploitative. There’s one other point too. Suppose that a visiting group of Girl Scouts wandered into your camp. Would you not offer them something to eat? Would you not want to get to know them? Of course you would. Why should we treat the other animals any differently? There’s a word for treating others differently based solely on what species they happen to belong to. Speciesism doesn’t just mean acting in ways that harm other animals; it can also mean not acting in ways that can be of benefit to them.
Could you please explain what it is about yourself you thought would be appealing to an ARZone audience today and why, as you’ve only been vegan for a short time, you thought there was something we could learn from you?
90% of what I write, I write in one sitting and then publish it to my blog. Although many of the ideas I write about are constantly on my mind, the actual things I say in any given post are like a snapshot of where my thinking is at that moment.
I think that there’s something appealing in that sort of unfiltered aspect of what I do. Of course, writing that way leads to me saying some things not as well as I would like, and sometimes I just get things dead wrong & that might be appealing too.
As far as how long I’ve been vegan, some people have suggested to me that I might not say as much about so many things as I do until I’ve been vegan longer. I don’t know why, it isn’t like being vegan is something that one gradually adopts. To be a vegan means stopping what one has done before. One day a person is deliberately using, exploiting and benefiting from the killings of others and the next day they aren’t. However long it takes a person to get to that point, and it took me almost 50 years, once a person gets there, they’re there, and they have the right and the obligation to talk about it in any way they know how.
“Tim, you come across as a very positive person and on your blog you say: “I believe in the inherent goodness of all people …”. How do you maintain your positive attitude? Any tips for a natural cynic?!”
Here’s why I believe in the inherent goodness of all people. I figure that I am like most people, and I am only trying to make my way in the world as best I know how. I’m not interested in hurting anyone or anything if I can help it. There’s nothing special about me or the circumstances of my life in that regard, so since I am like most other people, they must be trying to do the same I am trying to do, and since I‘m not better than anyone else, everyone else must be good too. If everyone is basically good, and we’re all just trying to do our best, what is there to be negative about? I don’t really understand the reality of my own existence. I know that I wake up every day with the same sense of self I had the day before. So I put a smile on my face, and try to be just a little bit better at being me than I was the day before. I like being alive, and I know that one day I won’t be. As long as I’m here, why not make the best of it?
I’d like to ask a question about the Taiji dolphin slaughter which began this week. I’ve seen some negative comments by abolitionists directed at people in support of this campaign, and the campaign itself. Comments suggesting that countries such as Australia treat farmed animals just as terribly as Japan do dolphins. This is true. I support the Taiji campaign, I’m an abolitionist, and I’m vegan. Why is it wrong for me to support a campaign aimed at correcting one of the wrongs being committed by humans toward other animals, while working hard towards vegan advocacy and education simultaneously?
It isn’t inherently wrong to support a campaign designed to end the slaughter of one group or class of sentient beings. For example, would an abolitionist say it would be wrong to try to stop someone from killing a single dolphin? I would hope not. But, it would be wrong to try to stop that killing while ignoring the same fisherman as he killed an octopus. The octopus has the same right to live as the dolphin, after all. The problem with so-called “single-issue campaigns” is when those campaigns are high-profile public events that do not serve to raise awareness about the fundamental wrong of using other animals in every case. When we protest the killing of dolphins, while we say nothing about the other animals being killed at the same time, by the same people, in the same place, our protest can have the unintended effect of legitimizing all those other exploitations. The public might very well receive the message that there is something special about dolphins, just as some think there is something special about humans, which warrants our protecting dolphins but not all the others. That message reinforces speciesism, and leads away from abolition, not towards it. To be effective, when a person has the chance to speak one-on-one about the murder of dolphins, a consistent case can and should be made which includes a discussion of the rights of all sentient beings to life and self-ownership. Before I would support any single-issue campaign, I would want to know that any groups I was associating with were advocating the abolition of exploitations of all other animals, upfront and always.
You have written some interesting blog entries about social change and people’s reaction to argument. For example, in your entry, “Waiting on the World to Change,” you say… people may respond with a comment like, “the world is not ready for change,” even though they have apparently agreed that the change in question would be just. You used the analogy of pre-marital sex to highlight the issue – can you explain what you were getting at?
Here’s what I meant. Many people respond to the call of veganism by saying “Good luck with that, you’ll never get everybody to be vegan” when what they really mean is “Fat chance, I’ll never go vegan.” So, the first statement is just an excuse.
The same thing happened in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the US with respect to race relations. For instance, people would say “Society isn’t really ready for integrated schools” when what they meant was “I don’t want my kids around them!” I contrast that to pre-marital sex. In that case, it really is true that not everyone will respond to a call to abstain from pre-marital sex by actually abstaining. But hardly anyone would say “Not everyone will abstain, so I won’t either.” Why is that? Because in the case of pre-marital sex, people accept their personal responsibility and set a standard for themselves regardless of what everyone around them does. The opposite is true in the other cases. People don’t accept their personal responsibilities when it comes to ending the exploitations of other animals (or racism) because the problem is viewed as something outside of themselves. It’s just how things are, and it’s no-one’s fault. Of course, it’s not true. Each of us has the power to abstain from exploiting others, just as each of us has the ability to abstain from pre-marital sex. We can choose to not be part of the problem & it doesn’t matter what others choose to do.
What is the most successful way you have found to advocate on behalf of nonhuman animals?
Thanks for that question. There is one thing which I do to be 100% effective on behalf of other animals – I choose not to be part of the ongoing exploitations as far as is possible in my own life. That’s why I am vegan. The effectiveness of the rest, I am not so sure about. We each have abilities and areas of interest and influence. In my case, I write about what I am thinking as often and as honestly as I know how. I hope that some of the things I write about will have some resonance with others. Because of what I write about, I think my blog is read mainly by people who are already vegan (or vegetarian) and who are advocates in some way themselves. So I try to be not part of the “echo chamber” but to challenge assumptions. It is easy to assume that what others have been saying is 100% right, but we all have to think for ourselves and understand the ideas of veganism, speciesism, abolition and animal rights in ways that make sense to us. So, since I am only one person, it seems the most effective thing I can do to help other animals is to help other people become more effective in helping other animals. I hope that my writing does that.
Of course, I also talk endlessly to anyone & everyone I meet about the moral imperatives of abolition & veganism & I do know that some people have changed, or are considering changes, as a result of that as well.
Tim, when did your foray into animal rights and veganism begin??
I turned 50 this year. In 1979 I was 19, living on my own, and one day I cooked a whole chicken in the oven. When I was cleaning up after the meal, as I looked at the carcass in the sink, it looked like a little human skeleton to me. I stopped eating any animal product, except eggs & dairy, right then. That lasted about a year. I got married, had kids, life got in the way. – Fast Forward to 20 years later in 1999.
At the end of that year, I went vegetarian again. Not vegan yet. In January of this year I wrote a post for my blog about how some things are right and other things are wrong, no matter the time, place and people involved. The post was also about other animals and what our obligations to them are. When I finished the post I realized I was thinking one way and living another way. Since my thinking was straight, it wasn’t likely to change, so my way of living had to. I gave up eggs & dairy right after that. I’m becoming more vegan every day. I didn’t start my blog thinking that I would be writing about animal rights. That was the furthest thing from my mind actually. But that is 95% of what I do now and I can’t stop doing it. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a real purpose in life. As I look forward to the next 50 years, I think I am beginning to know.
What is your response to people who say that we should focus first on human rights before the rights of non-human animals, especially when there are still so many human children dying?
Human suffering is a tragedy, and the suffering and dying of children is a despair. It is the failure of our time that in a world with unprecedented material wealth, the most innocent of humans are neglected and lost. We must do better. Even relatively small financial contributions in the right areas can have tremendous impacts in the lives of others. There are groups who use resources to foster self-sufficiency in poverty stricken areas of the globe to effect lasting change. There are other organizations who work to provide early childhood medical care through such things as de-worming programs and mosquito tents to stave off malaria. Local churches and charities provide needed help at home.
All these are good. At the same time, my help directed towards other animals costs me almost nothing and requires nothing from me. I can contribute to the cause of animal rights just by stopping the things I used to do. I opt out of the system. I am not intentionally creating poverty, or childhood sickness and disease in the world and neither am I intentionally causing harm to other animals. In both cases, there is more that I can do, so I do more. But neither cause detracts from the other. It is also true that we can feed more people using fewer resources at a lower cost on a plant based diet, which means fewer adults and children starving, so my veganism is a direct help in the fight against human suffering too.
What are your latest thoughts about the vegans-and-honey issue, Tim?
I read something on a vegan blog about food, and our love of it. The writer talked about how much she liked certain things and at one point said “we need our ice cream and our cupcakes, these are the pleasures which give meaning to our lives.” I wonder, then, what gives meaning to the lives of starving children who only have rice enough to keep them barely alive each day. Are they missing their ice cream and cupcakes? Are we that shallow that life’s meaning is just dessert? Why would I take something that doesn’t belong to me just to satisfy my sweet tooth? Why would I think it so important to have a pleasure give meaning to my life that I would impose my will on others? I wouldn’t, so I try not to. Bees ought to enjoy their own just deserts, and I can let them do that by finding something else to eat, and by finding true meaning in my life other than from what I put into my stomach.
What if anything gives you hope for the future? What is the most positive thing you see going on right now that might liberate animals?
I live in the American south. When I see a group of 12 & 13 year old kids walking home from school and one of them is Asian, two of them are white, and three of them are black, I have hope. A lot has changed in my lifetime, and I’m not that old.
My mom is 82 years old and other than the cream she puts in her coffee, she almost never eats any animal products at all. My younger daughter has been vegan for about 3 months. They give me hope. The most positive thing I see going on right now may surprise you, because others may see it as a negative, but that is the level of disagreement within the “community” that anyone can read about any day, any time. Let me explain. Any time that there is a consensus view, where there are established ideas and recognized ways of doing things, innovation has stopped and progress has ended. The internet helps us cut through all that. Don’t like what PeTA or someone else stands for? Then speak up, agitate a little, get people talking, challenge the order, find a new way, make things better. Disagree with someone who holds a position of power or authority. What’s stopping us? We are the best hope for the liberation of other animals. Each of us, right now. We don’t need any groups, organizations, conferences or anything else. Let’s shake things up a little bit and get more people talking and thinking.
In a March blog entry you cite Annie Leonard of “The Story of Stuff” on modern-day consumerism and the corporate-led pressure placed on individual consumers who are “bombarded relentlessly with advertising, marketing and cultural messages that reinforce the patterns of consumption.” Leonard claims that, “We ought [to not] fault the average citizen for living in the world as they find it,” adding that, “The individuals who run the Monsanto’s & DuPont’s of the world are another matter, but average people, no, we should not be calling them out.”
This clearly says something about arguments about supply and demand. You argue that Leonard sees the value of education in changing hearts and minds, and is not interested in placing blame where it is least warranted. However, and given that, are you worried that a population blinded and doped by skilful advertising will be especially hard to educate about the philosophy of veganism? In other words, what role do suppliers play in creating demand for products involving animal use?
I think about that blog entry a lot. On the one hand, Annie Leonard is right, it isn’t the consumers fault when every possible choice they are faced with supports a consumerist society. Getting the Corporations to change makes sense. In the same way, people are steeped in speciesism and the exploitations of nonhumans are so pervasive that it is almost impossible for the average person to even see the problems, never mind look for solutions. The problem when it comes to animal exploiters is not the same though as it is with the Mosanto’s and DuPont’s of the world. We can boycott Monsanto until they change their policy on GMO soybeans and RoundUp. They might stop. What can we boycott Tyson’s Chicken to do? All they do is kill chickens. What pressure can we put on them, and what changes could they make in their business model to satisfy us? Kill fewer chickens? Kill them more “humanely”? That makes no sense, and it is what is wrong with attempted incremental regulatory reforms of exploitative industries.
We don’t want better slaughterhouses, we want no slaughterhouses, so that’s what we should be fighting for. We can’t expect the slaughterhouses to cooperate in their own demise. They may be killers, but they aren’t crazy. The only way to put them out of business is to get people to stop buying their products. There are two things we can do. The first is consistent abolitionist vegan education. You are right- the producers & suppliers are very good at selling their products. We have to convince people that there is a more compelling reason to stop buying them. I am convinced that properly articulated message of a veganism based on the moral rights of other animals has the best chance of creating the most vegans, the most vegetarians and the most sympathetic “meat” eaters. People who think that the vegan message turns people off are missing the point. We want radical change in a fundamental aspect of “normal” life. We can’t get that kind of change by asking people to “Go Veg!” on “Meatless Mondays”. The first rule of negotiation is that you never get everything you ask for, so you can never ask for too much. That’s the second thing we can do. We can try to get the PETA’s and Vegan Outreach’s in the movement to stop selling out. Those are the corporations we should be putting pressure on, because, unlike Tyson’s, there is a possible new behavior from them that would be helpful. As it is now, the reinforce speciesism and exploitation. They hurt more than help.
What stokes your prolific writing, Tim?
I don’t know how to shut up, can’t you tell?
D’ya wanna be in my gang?
I appreciate the good natured humor in this question. It’s important that we all keep a sense of perspective about ourselves and what we are doing. But the question raises an even more important point which I’d like to address.
There are things which we can know, and know that they are right. 2 + 2 = 4. An unmarried man is a bachelor. Sarah Palin is a….no, let’s not go there, but you see my point, certain things just are the way they are and we are able to know them. So I am not interested in joining a “vegan club” as some who reject animal-rights theory would accuse me, and I am not going to be part of anyone’s entourage or gang. What I will do is listen to the arguments people put forth. When I hear an argument that makes sense, one that I can reason through, understand and accept the sensible conclusions of, I will support it and I will ask others to as well. It doesn’t matter to me who makes such an argument.
Tim, you have endorsed the concept of self-ownership and the idea that other animals deserve some form of individual liberty. Do you have any thoughts on the location of animal rights discourse within the broader political sphere?
Talking about animal rights in the larger political sphere can only be possible when the public is behind the idea in the first place. Politicians are followers, in the main, and not leaders at all. When the Gallup Poll folks release survey data which show that a majority of people are behind animal rights -actual rights and not “humane” treatment – politicians will get behind the idea too.
Thanks, Tim. I was thinking more of the relationship between animal rights and political ideology. Should animal rights advocates be explicitly endorsing a particular political view?
In a way, I think that conservatives should be behind animal rights. Conservatives should be about expanding rights and liberty and preserving the way things ought to be naturally.
Of course, I think liberals ought to be behind animal rights too, because liberalism is about what we all owe to each other.
Given that ARZone attempts to inspire rational discourse, where you surprised and shocked even over the reaction of staff members of Friends of Animals to your review of Lee Hall’s new book?…
You were described as “grandstanding”while I was criticised for commenting on your review. How dos you react to all of that?
Thanks for that question. It’s troubling to me that the public faces of a large and prominent advocacy group either do not appreciate or did not expect substantive criticisms of the positions taken in Lee Hall’s book. As I often say, I am just a guy with an internet connection and time on my hands to think and write about things which interest me and which I find important. I am surprised that I engender such strong feelings in others. If my review had not been more than 5000 words long, and had not used numerous quotes from Hall’s work, and had not made arguments based on reasonable argument, I would have expected the types of responses I have heard about. I’d be happy to answer any rebuttal or reply from Lee Hall or anyone else who thinks that I have misrepresented the work in “On Their Own Terms”.
Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is a voluntary, grassroots, abolitionist animal rights social network created in December 2009 with the aim of encouraging rational dialogue in the animal protection movement.